Character (Ac)Counts: Steelers Safety Will Allen

Karl Walter

In which the author continues a series from last year...

Last season I ran a series of articles called "Character (Ac)Counts." I was very intrigued by what seemed to be a common thread among the players taken in the draft in 2013. This was perhaps a bit of a reaction on the part of the Steelers front office and coaching staff to the unhappy end of several players taken in 2012 whose character problems eventually trumped their talent. The original article can be found here.

And although one could reasonably argue the overriding theme in this year's draft was speed, many of the players taken were also exceptionally high-character. Apparently the Steelers are willing to take the chance that nice guys don't always finish last.

Like last season's series, though, the focus of this series of articles will not necessarily be on the draftees. Last season's articles were on the following members of the organization:

The original article also had briefer profiles on William Gay, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and Cameron Heyward.

Today's article was prompted by one on Steelers.com, "Allen believes in paying it forward". Will Allen is one of the players who functions in relative obscurity. And, like his relative lack of on-the-field recognizability, I knew next to nothing about him off the field. Which is a pity, as it seems as if there is a good bit to know. Here are a few quotes from the article:

Steelers' safety Will Allen is one that never forgets the importance of paying it forward. He knows he was given a lot of help along his path to the NFL, from family, friends, coaches and even strangers. And he never, ever, hesitates when he has the chance to help someone else out - whether it's a stranger or a friend. 

Allen recently did his part to pay it forward, helping a young football player and some deserving families through the Will Allen Foundation...

He also helped eight families in the Pittsburgh area, many who will never know he did so, but being a "layaway angel" and paying off their layaway at K-Mart for back-to-school needs for their kids...

"It's humbling to be able to do it," said Allen. "I have been blessed to play football for so long. I have had a lot of people help me along the way. I feel like it's my responsibility to keep doing that. There are so many things people can do to help others out. Helping our community, building it the right way, is important. You hope that those you impact will try and impact others."

I decided to do a bit more digging and see what I could find out about this man of mystery : )

Allen grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and received an athletic scholarship to The Ohio State University. (Buckeyes seem to be an increasingly large portion of the squad—I'm going to have to look into this too one of these days.) During his senior year he was a first-team All-America selection.

He was drafted by Tampa Bay in the fourth round in 2004 and played for them through 2009. Although he played in essentially every game for them though 2009, he was only the full-time starter for one season (2006.)

The Steelers picked him up in 2010, but let him walk at the end of the 2012 season, and he signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys. They cut him in early October, and the Steelers immediately re-signed him. Interestingly, according to Pro Football Reference, 2013 was his strongest season, one in which he accumulated an Approximate Value of 6.

He formed the Will Allen Foundation in 2008. The initial program was called "Quest for Real Life Success", and there are branches of the program in Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Dayton. In 2011 he also began "The Big Play." The foundation also recently began the "REACH" program, which recognizes teachers for "creatively encouraging literacy in the classroom."

Here, from the website, is the Mission and Vision of the foundation:

The Will Allen Foundation was created in May 2008 to inspire youth to attain their personal best and to be an influence in the lives of families in Dayton, Ohio, Tampa, Florida and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The foundation's main focus is to provide students in the Quest for Real Life Success program with "real" life experiences and expose them to new and rewarding opportunities. Quest allows them to explore their curiosities and gives them the desire to strive and achieve goals outside of the everyday opportunities currently afforded to them.

The mission of the Will Allen Foundation is to remove barriers by providing programs and resources for those committed to achieving their personal best, bettering themselves, their families and their communities.

The vision of the Will Allen Foundation is to provide a level playing field for all, allowing for each individual to achieve their greatest success.

I love the idea of giving a boost to those who have shown the initiative to try to rise above their circumstances. And I'm a big fan of literacy, the lack of which causes enormous problems.

But the work done by a  foundation is often rather far removed from the person who began it, although the involvement of players in their foundations varies a good deal. I am particularly impressed with Allen's desire to do "random acts of kindness" for people. Also from the website:

A true giver at heart, Will Allen believes in improving the lives of others regardless of one's age or situation in life. He is recognized as a leader among his NFL peers in the performance of community service.  Allen's charitable efforts are highlighted throughout the holidays to ensure that these special family times are provided to each and every family, regardless of circumstance.  Whether he is spending his time at a soup kitchen preparing meals for the homeless on Thanksgiving, providing Christmas gifts for children in need, sharing love and his faith with others at Easter, one of his favorite memories with his own family as a child.

Allen spoke earlier this year at a program produced by the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania. He was quoted in another article on Steelers.com,

Being a mentor is an investment in a person. When you think how people interact, the influence of word and behavior and how others respond, it's unmatched. It's so important in a young person's life to have an older person give them wisdom and teach them how to grow and become responsible, disciplined adults. You can't put a price tag on that. I have had people give their time and words of wisdom to me to invest in me. You can see the fruits of it years later. I am thankful for that so that is what compels me to be a mentor.

A representative of the MPSWPA, Kristan Allen, (presumably no relation : ) said of Allen:

Mentoring is such a core component in Will's life and value system. We have worked with him and the Steelers the last few years. The Steelers as a whole value mentoring and the impact it has and it's because of guys like Will who have had great mentors in their lives and paid that forward.

Allen's inspiration for service was developed by the example of his parents. In a 2011 article on pros giveback.com, author Christian Marin notes:

When you grow up with great role models, you turn into one yourself. Will Allen of the Pittsburgh Steelers grew up watching his parents give back to the community however they could. His father would coach his teams and treated every kid on them as if they were his own. When someone needed help, they were there.

"I remember watching my father give back and help kids in the neighbourhood. He would invite people over to the house and he was always an inspiration and a father figure to a lot of the kids in the neighbourhood...watching him make sacrifices for other people definitely had an impact on my life."

Due to his father's unselfishness and big heart, Allen learned the importance of helping those in need and how to treat others.

And as the article notes, Allen didn't just start a foundation and then show up at a charity event now and again. He gets involved in the lives of the young people who are being helped:

Allen's favourite thing to do with his Foundation is the community service. Once a month he does community service with the kids in his Foundation with the after school program to show them the importance of giving back to the community and those in need, just like Allen's father taught him when he was a child.

"To watch the kids have an excitement about giving back to other people in their community is really amazing. To see how they want to pay it forward and understand that they can help another person along the way while living their life is incredible."

The article goes into a great deal of detail about Allen's charitable work, and I highly recommend giving it a read.

And a final bit about Allen comes from an article on proplayerinsiders.com. And if cleanliness is next to godliness, it seems Allen is a shoe-in for godliest player:

PPI: Which one of your teammates has the cleanest or messiest locker?

WA: By far I have the cleanest locker in the locker room. I am so anal and I am a stickler. Everything has to be clean. I probably have the cleanest locker which is always stocked with hand sanitizer and Lysol spray. I spray it to keep away the germs. I get my helmet and shoulder pads sanitized and cleaned every week.

Allen reveals he is called "Frenchy" by his teammates, because they feel he has a European flair to his dress. He doesn't play video games, preferring "ping pong, pool, cards, and chess." And one of the questions perhaps best reveals why Allen feels compelled to help others:

5. Fill in the blank the first thing Will Allen does when he wakes up in the morning is_____________?

I thank the Lord Jesus for another day, another breath, another chance to walk, another chance to impact people and another chance to be used by him. I am just really thankful for another day. That's the very first thing I do when I wake up. Then I go brush my teeth.

A man of practicality, cleanliness, and gratitude. Way to worm yourself into any Momma's heart, Will!

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